60 percent of credit card accounts carry a balance. Here's why that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

It's generally a bad thing to carry a balance on a credit card. The typical credit card charges an interest rate of about 15% per year on balances, with some rising as high as 29% when penalty interest comes into play. Given short-term interest rates are still pretty darn close to zero, paying an interest rate in the double digits is a big, fat mistake.

But if you do it, you aren't alone. Thanks to the Federal Reserve's recent payments study, we learned that more than three out of five credit card accounts had a balance that was carried over at least once from one month to the next in 2015, the most recent period for which data is available.

Carrying a balance isn't always a bad move

You can carry a balance on a credit card and use a credit card responsibly. These behaviors are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

RELATED: 10 purchases you should never make with a credit card:

10 purchases you shouldn't make with a credit card
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10 purchases you shouldn't make with a credit card

#1: Household bills

If you are already cutting it close for the month, you may be tempted to use plastic to pay the utility, cellphone or cable bill. But if you’re not paying off your full balance each month, the interest you will be charged makes those monthly bills even more expensive.

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#2: Cars 

Car dealers often don’t allow credit card purchases, or may limit the amount of the purchase price you can put on your card. Dealers don’t like credit card payments because they have to pay the 1 to 3 percent fee the card company charges to process the transaction.

You could exercise the cash-advance option. But you’ll pay a fee and a higher interest rate. Also, you won’t get a grace period on the interest — it will begin to accumulate right away.

Instead of using a card, go to a credit union or bank to get financing approved at a reasonable interest rate before shopping for a car.

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#3: Student loans

If you can’t afford to pay your federal student loans, you have options. They include an income-based repayment plan, deferment, forbearance and possibly loan forgiveness. Take a look at “How to Get Free Help With Your Student Loans” to learn more.

Paying your student loan debt with a credit card increases the amount of interest you’re paying on the debt. Even if you have a zero-percent introductory credit card offer, it will expire in time.

And while the federal government will accept a credit card payment for loans in default, many student loan servicers won’t allow this form of payment.

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#4: Retail therapy

Think a new purchase will cheer you up? Perhaps. But remember that cash is king if you choose this mode of “therapy.” Use cash, and you won’t let your credit card balance spiral out of control.

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#5: Medical bills

If you use a medical credit card available through your health care provider’s office to pay bills, be careful to read the fine print about your obligations.

Also consider steps you can take to reduce health care costs. See “10 Ways to Fight High Medical Bills.”

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#6: A night on the town

Handing your credit card to an unscrupulous waitperson equipped with a skimming device isn’t your only worry. If you’re out on the town throwing back drinks, it’s easy to run up a tab you can’t afford.

So when painting the town, it’s best to pay with cash.

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#7: Big-ticket items you can’t pay off immediately

Credit cards offer great purchase protections and should be used for many big-ticket purchases. But buying something on credit when you can’t afford to pay it off right away isn’t smart.

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#8: Credit card payments

You can’t charge your monthly credit card payment on another credit card. But perhaps you’ve been tempted to use a cash advance from a credit card to bolster your checking account so that you can pay other bills.

We’ve already explained the folly of cash advances. Your credit card is not an ATM and should not be used as one.

There are real benefits, however, to transferring high-interest credit card debt to a new card with a generous zero-percent balance transfer offer. Just be aware of the balance-transfer fee and find out how long the offer lasts.

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#9: ‘Sale’ items

Convinced that you might miss out on savings if you don’t purchase a specific item on sale right away? That’s one of the warning signs of an impulse buy.

Wait a day and think about whether you really need the item. Nine times out of 10, the answer will be “no.”

You aren’t saving money by spending it for something you don’t need.

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#10: Unsecured online purchases

When shopping online, make sure the web address has “https” at the beginning. If it doesn’t, that’s your cue to take your online shopping elsewhere.

In fact, do your homework before purchasing anything online to make sure a company is reputable and not the source of many consumer complaints.

Which purchases do you refrain from making with your credit card? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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In fact, many cardholders are now taking advantage of intense competition in the credit card industry to score 0% intro APRs on their purchases and balance transfers for 18 months or more. Even cash-back rewards cards, which are commonly marketed toward high-spending people who don't carry balances, are getting in on the 0% intro APR game.

It's not all that surprising that many people would carry a balance at a 0% APR, if they could. Cardholders commonly use 0% intro APRs to break up large purchases into 18 months of bite-sized monthly payments, ultimately paying nothing in interest on the balance when it is paid off before the end of the promotional period.

Others use balance-transfer promotions as a way to put them on the fast track toward paying off credit card debt for good. In 2015, the last year for which data is available, Americans opened more than 58 million credit cards, the highest since 2008. Many probably received 0% intro APRs as a perk of opening the account.

But all bills eventually come due

Of course, all credit cards that offer introductory rates eventually revert to ordinary credit cards with relatively high interest rates. But in the meantime, cardholders who have existing credit card balances would be silly not to reduce their interest rate by transferring a balance to a card with a 0% APR, even if the rate is only temporary.

Moving a $5,000 balance from one card with a 15% APR to another card with a 0% APR could save someone as much as $615 in interest if the balance is paid off with 18 equal monthly payments. Similarly, putting a $15,000 purchase on a 0% APR credit card so as to keep your cash in a high-interest savings account for 18 months yields hundreds of dollars in incremental interest income in addition to $300 of rewards on a 2% cash-back card.

Those who have credit scores that teeter around "prime" are most likely to have a balance of $5,000 or more, with 37% of people in this cohort carrying a balance that high. It's this group that is the target market for 0% promotional rates on balance transfers, as these cards are most often marketed to people with merely "good" credit.

All this is to say that while there is never a good time to carry a balance at an ordinary credit card interest rate, given the proliferation of promotional interest rates, it certainly isn't the worst time to carry a balance on a credit card, either.

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